It wasn’t a matter of if, but when for Larry Fedora.

On Wednesday, the when came in the form of Southern Mississippi, who hired Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator the last three seasons to be its next head coach.

Jeff Bower, the coach of the Conference USA program for the last 17 years, was forced to resign after the Eagles finished 7-5 and earned a berth in the Bowl. USM faces Cincinnati on Dec. 22 in Birmingham, Ala., and Bower will be on the sidelines.

The 45-year old Fedora expects good things in Hattiesburg.

“I believe we can make the nation realize there’s a force to be reckoned with here at Southern Miss,” said Fedora on Wednesday during a press conference in Hattiesburg. “I knew this was just going to be a golden opportunity. I think Southern Miss is getting ready to explode and I wanted to be the next guy here to just push it over the top.

“I want to have a team on the field each and every week that obviously will play on a championship level. I want a team that everyone associated with Southern Miss will be proud of. To do that, we need the support of everyone who bleeds black and gold.”

USM director of athletics Richard Giannini had his eye on Fedora early in the coaching search.

“We wanted someone that had incredible energy and incredible passion for the game of football and tremendous passion to be successful,” Giannini said. “And there’s no question we got the No. 1 guy. From Day 1, he was on our list.”

Fedora’s credentials speak for themselves.

After working at Baylor from 1991-96, the Austin College (Texas) graduate spent two seasons at Air Force (1997-98) coaching the passing game and receivers. He was offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State for three seasons — his offense breaking 43 school records — before joining Ron Zook at Florida where he eventually became offensive coordinator in 2004.

The Gators’ 2004 offense became the second in SEC history to feature the league’s top passer and rusher.

“Larry is one of the best coaches I have worked with in my time in college football,” said Zook, who originally brought Fedora to Champaign when he was hired to coach Illinois. “He has a great offensive mind and the ability to motivate his players. He has such a great passion for the game and kids he coaches.

“USM has found an outstanding leader in Larry.”

O-State certainly benefitted from Fedora’s stay in Stillwater.

The Cowboys averaged 35.2 points per game (seventh nationally) in 2006, that coming a year after ranking 96th in scoring in Fedora’s first season. OSU was one of just two teams — along with Boise State — to average more than 200 yards rushing and passing per game in ’06.

During this season’s 6-6 campaign, the Pokes averaged 33.4 points, 245.8 yards rushing and 238.2 yards passing per contest. Quarterback Zac Robinson did not become the full-time starter until Week 3, but still broke the school single-season record for total offense.

“General George S. Patton said, ‘Instead of waiting to see what might develop, attack constantly, vigorously, and viciously,” said Fedora on Wednesday. “Never let up, never stop, always attack. And that is what our program is going to be built on. We’re going to attack all the time, on offense, defense and special teams.”

Bower, a former assistant coach at O-State, led the Eagles to 119 wins and bowl appearances in 10 of the last 11 seasons.

“I think the people at Southern Mississippi will be very excited about the direction he will take them,” said OSU head coach Mike Gundy, who will most likely take care of play-calling duties in the Insight Bowl on Dec. 31.

Gundy isn’t the only one who must find a capable replacement.

Stillwater High head football coach Rusty Atkins, after losing three talented senior receivers, could have used Dillon Fedora next fall.

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